The European Parliament has stripped a Greek MEP of her role as vice-president of the body following allegations that Qatar bribed her to influence decision-making.
Eva Kaili, 44, one of the 14 deputy speakers of parliament, was among four people arrested and charged by investigators in Belgium on the bribery and corruption scandal.
It comes after European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Monday that allegations they had received money and gifts from Qatar were of “greatest concern”.
Belgian police raided 19 parliamentary homes and offices in raids from Friday to Monday as part of their investigation and seized computers, mobile phones and cash, some of which were found in a suitcase in a bedroom of hotel.
Prosecutors said they had suspected for months that a Gulf state was trying to influence decision-making in Brussels.
They did not name the suspects, but Ms. Kaili’s name was released to the media.
Ms Kaili, who denies the charges, was suspended from her job in light of the weekend’s investigation, while Greece’s socialist PASOK party announced it was kicking her out of its ranks.
A source with knowledge of the case told Reuters news agency that the state was Qatar.
Qatar denied any wrongdoing.
A total of 625 MEPs voted in favor of stripping Ms Kaili of her title, with only one against and two abstentions.
“The integrity of @Europarl_EN comes first,” European Parliament President Roberta Metsola tweeted.
A scandal risks damaging the image of the EU
The vote in favor of the dismissal of Eva Kaili was a very rare sign of (almost) unity in the European Parliament.
It marks the final stage of a rather astonishing fall from grace.
A week ago, Kaili was seen as a dynamic figure with a particular interest in digital technology; a former television news presenter who had been elevated to the rank of Deputy Speaker of Parliament.
Now she is in detention, linked to corruption and her career is in shambles. And all the smoke signals point to a direct link between Kaili and Qatar.
She recently told parliament that Qatar was a “frontrunner in labor rights”, despite the deaths of migrant workers building football stadiums, and chastised her colleagues for bullying the country and discriminating.
Instead, criticism of Qatar is now about to intensify.
Later in the day, the European Parliament will hold a debate on suspicions of “Qatar” corruption” (note that the wording: “of Qatar” rather than “in Qatar” – this is about Qatari influence in the outside the country) as well as on the need for more transparency in the European institutions.
And that’s where parliament will have to look at itself – it has long been accused of being too opaque in its rules, with many MEPs working second jobs and lobbying firms floating like dust in the air.
The question of where lobbying ends and corruption begins is an old one – but this may be the time when parliament is starting to take it much more seriously.
Ms Kaili’s lawyer, Michalis Dimitrakopoulos, said his client was “innocent”.
“It has nothing to do with the financing of Qatar, nothing, explicitly and unequivocally,” he told Greek channel Open TV.
In a speech to the European Parliament on November 21 at the start of the World Cup, Ms Kaili said: “Qatar is a frontrunner when it comes to workers’ rights.
“They have engaged in a vision by choice and they have opened up to the world. Yet some here are calling to discriminate against them. They are intimidating them and they are accusing anyone who speaks to them or engages (with them) of corruption. “